COMMUNICATION IS KEY
- Create a thorough host family handbook so that your au pair always knows you expected from her/him;
- Use a daily communication log to write questions, answers, or comments to each other;
- Regularly post and/or email a weekly or monthly work and event schedule;
- Keep in mind that different cultures often mean different norms and that its often the little things that you least expect; therefore it is better to explain too much than to assume your au pair knows what you might take for granted but keep in mind that there is sometimes only a fine line between explaining things and sounding condescending;
- Plan weekly gatherings to discuss everyday issues and to share upcoming events;
- If you are not sure whether your au pair understood your instructions, ask him/er to repeat the instructions back to you;
- Invite your au pair to share stories and meals from her/his country and share your stories and meals as well;
- Help your au pair feel welcome: make sure s/he is invited to join in family meals and activities but don’t be offended if s/he declines or already has plans;
- If something is bothering you, discuss it respectfully with your au pair to keep it from escalating (don’t wait);
- Keep in mind that your au pair is in an unfamiliar environment; watch for clues that mean s/he may need clarification: facial expressions, body language, pauses when talking;
- A closed door does not mean your au pair does not want to communicate; s/he may need temporary privacy or time away or simply is used to closing her bedroom door;
PRE-ARRIVAL AND FIRST WEEK
- Have the au pair’s room clean and furnished; a TV and/or PC are big hits but are not required;
- Extra linens and towels in the room are a nice touch;
- A little gift basket with healthy goodies is a great way to help your au pair settle in; don’t be surprised if the au pair brings your family gifts;
- Welcome your au pair by having the children make a sign or cards;
- Encourage your au pair to call family right away to check in;
- Ask about the room (anything else needed?);
- Inquire about his/her home, country, family, and encourage cultural exchange;
- Ask them how you can make them feel welcome with regard to food, customs, etc.;
- Plan to spend the first three days with your au pair touring the home, using appliances, clarifying childcare needs, and explaining rules in your household handbook;
- Help to get the social security card and bank account right away – I can assist you in this regard if needed;
- If the au pair will be driving, help her/him to get a driver’s license test booklet and paperwork for preparation (your au pair will need a SSN first);
- Show your au pair where the weekly/monthly work schedule and emergency numbers are posted;
- Discuss unknowns: answering the phone and door, locking up the house, security system, severe weather warnings, fire/smoke alarms, power/phone outages, school closings, etc.
- Introduce the au pair to family, friends, and neighbors;
- Demonstrate cooking for your children and have basic meal plans set out;
- Visit the local college and help with enrollment;
- Discuss and provide access to transportation (car or public);
- Discuss your discipline system and demonstrate it (1, 2, 3 – etc.);
- Be a role model: use the voice tone/volume and discipline with your children that you want the au pair to use (s/he will do what you do, when you are away)
HOST FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES
- Limit the au pair’s work hours to 10 hours per day, 45 hours per week and respect her free time;
- Plan days off for the au pair: 1.5 continuous days per week, 1 full weekend per month, two weeks paid vacation per year; time to attend school and monthly meetings;
- The au pair schedule should be clearly laid out at the beginning of every week. The Daily Communication Log contains blank schedule pages to facilitate this process. Another great tool is to use a shared online calendar, e.g. Google.
- If you need your au pair to work at a time outside of her/his normal work schedule (e.g. a Sunday afternoon while you attend a wedding), we encourage you to give your au pair as much advance notice as possible. The Daily Communication Log contains blank schedule pages to facilitate this process
- Deliver the weekly stipend to your au pair on time: every week – no exceptions and document your payments;
- Provide a private bedroom to meet the Department of State requirements;
- Provide transportation to/from all program-related activities: monthly au pair meetings, educational component, obtaining social security number and bank account;
- Speak with your Local Childcare Coordinator monthly when s/he calls, even if it just a message to say, “All is going well”;
- Participate in the two-week Orientation Meeting with your Local Childcare Coordinator and au pair;
- Attend at least one Host Family event per year;
- Treat your au pair with respect-as you would want your children treated;
- If a conflict arises with your au pair that you cannot resolve, you will be responsible for participating in a Mediation Meeting with your Local Childcare Coordinator and au pair to create an action plan to move forward;
AU PAIR RESPONSIBILITIES
- Many host families have found that a written list of specific tasks helps to avoid confusion about an au pair’s duties especially at the beginning of your program year together. We suggest you outline these duties and detail the most important ones.
- Au Pair tasks are limited to those related to the children and the program, which may include washing the children’s clothes and her/his own (but NOT the host parents’ or other family members’ clothes), cleaning up after the children in their rooms and/or play areas, and helping with the dishes and clean up as a family member (but the au pair is NOT responsible for doing the family clean up alone)
- Keeping private room in the condition upon arrival;
- Cleaning up after her/himself in all areas of the house used; for example, if au pair takes books off a shelf to read, s/he should return them when finished, or clean up after her/himself when cooking, making snacks, etc.;
- Attend all mandatory monthly meetings with the Local Childcare Coordinator;
- Complete the educational component requirements; the courses should be completed by the last day of the 11th month;
- Treat host family and children with respect-as s/he would want family treated;
- If a conflict arises with the host family that cannot be resolved, s/he will be responsible for participating in a Mediation Meeting with the Local Childcare Coordinator and host family to create an action plan to move forward
- Post a written schedule every week/month, so that the au pair knows when s/he is to start and end duty;
- Before creating the weekly/monthly schedule, determine the au pair’s full weekend off that month and 1.5 continuous days off each week, and include those in the written and posted work schedule; think about the vacation schedule as well;
- Set an example for the au pair and be on time, according to the work schedule;
- Add extra time into the schedule for driving/meeting delays;
- If a day must be split, for example, taking the children to school then taking care of them after they get home, only one split in the day is permissible, and the au pair must have a minimum break of at least two (2) hours;
- The schedule should include time off for au pairs to attend mandatory monthly meetings. If the au pair joins you on vacation, provide a written schedule; if the au pair works during the vacation, the stipend must be paid and accommodations for the au pair should be paid for by the host family;
- If the au pair is responsible for children during sleeping hours, those hours count toward the daily (10) and weekly (45) work maximums; for example, if you leave at 5:00 AM and the child(ren) and au pair do not get up until 7:00 AM, this still counts as TWO work hours for the au pair!
- Even if the weekly schedule does not utilize the full 45 hours, the au pair must be paid the full weekly stipend, on time. On evenings before an au pair is scheduled to work, most host families expect au pairs to be at home at least eight hours before work begins-to get a good night’s sleep; if you expect this, make sure you discuss it with the au pair!
- Thoroughly model and discuss your discipline system and give the au pair time to acclimate;
- If the au pair is on duty and you are home, allow the au pair to discipline the children; observe and make any corrections you may have in private (!), but not in front of the children;
- Be on the same team with the au pair and treat the au pair as another parent so that the children will quickly understand her/his role.
- Ask the au pair and children about their daily activities when you return home;
- Set boundaries and teach your children to honor the au pair’s off-duty time;
- Include your au pair in children’s activities and medical care so that s/he is familiar with procedures;
- Put the au pair in charge when s/he comes on duty: s/he should call you -not the children- for questions, issues, etc.
ON VS. OFF-DUTY
Imagine the following scene: your entire family is sitting at the dinner table and the children become restless. Your au pair is officially “off duty” this evening, but feels responsible for the children. Who should attend to the children? Unfortunately, there are no concrete rules governing this type of situation. Please keep in mind that, like you, your au pair has had a long day at work. For her/him, however, it is particularly difficult to feel “off-duty” because of the fact that she/he works at home. From the very beginning, it is important for your au pair to know that you recognize when “official” work time is over.
- Consider the au pair when buying groceries or ordering out: what does s/he like to eat, is there enough for another person;
- Let the au pair and children know that when a door is closed, a knock should be answered before opening the door (this goes for everyone);
- If the au pair will be using centrally located electronics (computer, TVs, music, telephones, etc.) discuss appropriate times and limits for usage;
- If you have guests coming over, remember to let the au pair know, as a courtesy;
- Post emergency procedures and numbers (poison control, doctor, etc.) in a visible area;
- Discuss any guidelines for guests of the au pair (short visits, dinner, overnight)
THE AU PAIR’S ROOM
- No one should enter the au pair’s room without permission-unless it is an emergency; in which case, an explanation should be given;
- The au pair’s room is a private room for the au pair, according to the Department of State – family belongings should NOT be kept in the au pair’s room;
- Children are often very excited to have a new au pair – set boundaries to help them understand your au pair’s off-duty time and privacy;
- The Au pair is responsible for cleaning her room; set this as a rule in your handbook to set the expectation;
- If the au pair shares a bathroom, she should clean up after herself but she is not to clean up after others who use the bathroom. If she has a private bathroom, she should keep it clean to the condition in which she arrived at the home.
If the au pair will be driving your car, prepare by doing the following:
- Provide her/him with a driver’s manual; it can be ordered via phone, picked up from the local DMV office, or downloaded from most DMV websites;
- Model good driving and have the au pair practice driving as often as possible; the au pair may be accustomed to a much smaller car and very different road rules, so have patience but be persistent;
- Contact your insurance company to have the au pair added as soon as possible;
- Show the au pair where the insurance card and car registration are located in case s/he is pulled by a police officer;
- Provide transportation for the written and driving test;
- Provide gas for all driving required for the children and program; discuss non-required driving in your handbook and gas purchases;
- The au pair should always have her/his international license when driving;
- Demonstrate and allow the au pair to put in and take out car seats and buckling seat belts;
- Remember to discuss (also put in the family handbook) listening to music while driving or driving with multiple friends, if those are issues of concern
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
- The au pair may be from a part of the world that has a different climate; consider providing a small space heater, extra blankets, and/or sweater(s); the au pair may not own a coat, so it might be a nice gesture to buy one from a second-hand shop as a gift;
- Some au pairs’ cultures include hugging and kissing of near strangers, so s/he may feel you are angry if this is not done, so discuss this if it seems appropriate; sometimes a hug helps too;
- Au pairs are adults, so be fair about any curfews, if applicable. It is appropriate to have a curfew on work nights, but remember that au pairs should have the freedom to enjoy other activities, and many young people do not get together until late;
- Ask the au pair about her/his off-duty time: Did s/he have fun? Where did s/he go? What activities did s/he enjoy?
- Helping the au pair stay in touch with family and friends is the best way to avoid or help diminish being homesick, so try to help the au pair find a practical and inexpensive way to keep in touch, such as skype, IM, or Facebook;
- Encourage the au pair to go out with other au pairs (whom they will meet at the mandatory monthly meetings); it’s important for them to spend time with peers;
- Ask about how class is going; remember that the au pair is required to complete six (6) credit hours during the year, which should be finished by the end of the 11th month;
- Many au pairs save their stipend money to take back home or to travel, so money may be tight for them; there are many thoughtful and practical ways to show appreciation and help them: train pass, gas card, international calling card, basket of toiletries, etc.
A happy au pair means happy children and a happy family!
Please let me know about any other tips you think would be helpful to other new host families.